How Do I Get My Teen on a Good Sleep Schedule?

The summertime can mess with your teen's sleep schedule. Parents 'Ask Your Mom' columnist, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., explains why that is, why it can be a problem, and how you can help your kid get good sleep.

teen in bed illustration
Photo: Sahara Borja


As we veer into summer, my teen's already scattered sleep schedule devolves into full on chaos. But he's a growing boy, and I know he needs the rest. How do I set sleep schedule guidelines when my kid has already outgrown formal bedtime rules and regulations? And how much sleep does a 14-year-old actually need?


The transition from the school year to summer indulges every teenager's natural drive toward freedom. Freedom to graze on snacks all day instead of eating an actual meal. Freedom to be on their phones for hours on end. Freedom to sleep into the day with no alarm disturbing their leisurely slumber. As an adult with a job and parenting responsibilities, I admit to being envious! The truth is, however, that no matter our age, we do better with some structure. This includes sleep schedules.

The Teen Sleep Brain

Teens' sleep brains are different from ours, so what we see as a good sleep schedule may not fit their biology. Melatonin—the chemical our brain naturally releases as daylight changes to darkness to signal it's time to start feeling tired—actually releases later in the evening for adolescents, and lasts longer into the next morning.

In her book, The Sleep-Deprived Teen, Lisa Lewis explains that for adolescents, this biological timing means they become tired later than we do and need to sleep longer into the mornings. There are many reasons the typical teen is not getting enough sleep, including the mismatch between teenage biology and their first class at school starting when their brains are essentially asleep (which is why Lewis has worked for—and achieved—later school start times in California!).

However, this does not mean that biology completely accounts for sleep schedules kept by many teens. I have worked with many an adolescent who stays up until 3 a.m. or later socializing online, and then sleeps until well after lunch. I don't know your son's specific sleep schedule, but one like this is not ideal for the basic functions of sleep to be met.

Key Sleep Questions: How Much, and How Well?

To answer your question, how much sleep does a 14-year-old actually need? The expert consensus is 8-10 hours. The science of sleep acknowledges individual differences so it can be hard to say exactly how many hours is ideal for each teen, but it's likely close to this average. A natural sleep schedule for many teens would be 11 p.m. until between 7 and 9 a.m.

How much sleep is a less important question than how "good" the sleep is—such as, how many night awakenings and time spent in each sleep wave. Quality sleep achieves benefits from head to toe, inside and out: a better-functioning immune system so we get sick less, less risk for depression and anxiety, improved ability to manage stress, and better school and work performance. The reason? We can pay attention and focus, and better process stress and learning from the day before. I could go on and on, especially because it seems a majority of our teenagers are not getting enough sleep quantity or quality, and they are suffering for it.

Sleep Habits for Summer and Beyond

Although the typical sleep problem in adolescence is never getting enough, there is also such a thing as too much. Even as the timing of melatonin release may shift the teen brain sleep clock, chronobiology (the science of time) supports that the more we are awake during daylight and asleep during the night, the better our brains and bodies operate.

A 14-year-old may no longer participate in the adult-hosted bedtime process from storytime to snuggles, but they still need structure. Since summer has fewer time demands, it's often the wild west of sleep hours, which can mess with the sleep brain to not know when it's supposed to be tired or wake up! The foundation of healthy sleep habits in any season is maintaining consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.

Based on all the teens I have worked with who have about zero motivation to change sleep patterns, I understand this may be an uphill battle. But it's so, so worth it as these same teens eventually admit how much better they feel once they have good sleep. I don't know your current household rules, but I recommend a few positive sleep habits for all families:

  • No phones in the bedroom. If this is too impossible a policy to change, then at least have the expectation that phones are turned off or on do not disturb, and placed in their room where they would have to get up and walk over to get it instead of sleepily grabbing it to scroll mindlessly when they need to be asleep.
  • Healthy winding down options before bed. Those should not involve a screen, in a room with lowlight. Some popular choices are listening to music, drawing, and reading. If teens are open, my favorite recommendations are journaling and meditating. Sleep meditations can be a great habit to start at any age.
  • Establish a wake-up time and stick to it. Blinds pulled up to let the sunlight in as soon as possible to turn on that brain's awake signal. An outdoor walk in the morning is one of the best ways to help the body and brain feel alert and energetic. These morning habits prime the brain to then be ready for sleep at a more regular time at night.

Knowing these may be a hard sell depending on how far these are from how your 14-year-old's current habits, establish the expectation that he needs a better sleep schedule, and then collaborate with him on the details. If possible, find his motivation within the laundry list of benefits of better sleep (it does help with the growth hormone if he wants to be taller!). Then, brainstorm a sleep schedule that would at least be an improvement, even if not ideal. For more on the benefits and specific sleep routine recommendations geared toward teens, I highly recommend Lewis' book!

The Bottom Line

After completing the demands of another long school year, it's understandable why teens want to sleep more in the summer. But this is an example of too much of a good thing, and discarding a sleep routine for a couple of months can make the start of the next school year that much more painful. Working with your teen to establish better sleep habits won't just benefit them in their season of leisure, but well beyond, for less chaos all around.

Submit your parenting questions here, and they may be answered in future 'Ask Your Mom' columns.

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and the upcoming parenting book Parenting for Autonomy. She is a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois, and a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.

Read More Ask Your Mom columns here.

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